Layar shows the Augmented Reality revolution is not in Silicon Valley

In Amsterdam today, the makers of mobile Augmented Reality (AR) browser Layar announced version 2.0 of the browser as well as a slew of new layars which have been produced since they opened up their API to developers. A ‘layar’ is information overlaid on the camera view of your mobile phone, e.g. the asking price of an apartment for sale in the building your camera is pointed at.  Layar will be pre-installed on the new Samsung Galaxy Android phone about to be released in the Netherlands and the Android version of the browser is available for download in the Android app store. The iPhone version will be available as soon as Apple updates its API to allow access to the iPhone camera.

Bruce Sterling on AR

The Layar event was opened by science fiction writer  Bruce Sterling who has been blogging recently about the augmented reality scene.  He pointed out that the biggest language bases for AR are actually Korean and Dutch with English coming in third. Similarly, the greatest interest is not in San Francisco but places like Singapore, Lisbon and Amsterdam. Could this be a new tech industry which does not revolve around Silicon Valley?

He described AR as a “technovisionary’s dream come true” but warned of trouble ahead for the fledging industry as it will face all the problems which accompany any technology with massive commercial potential, e.g. the AR equivalents of spam and online criminalty, the Gartner hype cycle, the environmental impact. He imagined a “Crack dealers layar” or “Neo-nazi’s occupation guide to Amsterdam”.  Sterling also gave the audience a metric for maturity in their industry – when AR people have a characteristic, and expensive, look (“All Web 2.0 people took the same”). He was guessing it would not be dissimilar to the look of chic, off-duty Hollywood executives. If only we had more fashion talk in tech presentations.

Brightkite Augmented Reality from Brightkite on Vimeo.

Building a Layar

Building a new layar is pretty straightforward using the Layar API. A layar can be customised via a simple web form and an Android APK is available for testing. Full info is available on the Layar Wiki. The layars announced in today’s event range from Sapporo hot spots, Poetry in motion (geotagged poems), celebrity sightings and city soundwalks to mobile coupons. There are also plenty of layars for navigation, tourism and real-estate applications. 500 new developer keys were also released today so join the revolution and start building your own layar now.